A colleague came to my classroom after school this afternoon looking exhausted and defeated. She expressed to me how frustrated and unappreciated she was feeling in her role as a teacher. She questioned her worth altogether as an effective teacher.
Sure, we are only a day away from Spring Break, and everyone is feeling stressed out. But this fine teacher’s feelings are so much more than the end of the year fatigue that we all experience around this time each school year.
And she is not alone in her despair. She is in a quickly-growing group which only wishes to be validated as worthy educators…to be told “you matter...you make a difference.”
This is a fabulous teacher. I have known her for almost twenty years. I was once her assistant principal and now work right alongside her in the trenches. She knows her trade, and she is an expert in the field. Yet she feels so overwhelmed that today she wondered aloud that others might see her as a fraud.
As a writer, I’m supposed to be the one with all the right words. As a former administrator, I’m supposed to be the one with all the right solutions. But today, I was coming up blank – no words, no solutions. I was beginning to feel a bit like a fraud myself.
I listened for a few minutes, and suddenly the images of several former students began to flood my mind. A torrent of memories of conversations, celebrations and simple, tiny interventions along the way that yielded great changes in the lives of the children with whom I have connected… A storm that thundered, “Thank you for all you have done for me…”
There was my reward.
I rejoined the conversation with my friend. Just this morning, she had shared with me a story of a boy in her class who lives with his grandmother and who has had one too many walls placed before him in his short eleven years of life. This teacher explained that she had combined her money with that of another teacher to purchase dress clothes for the boy so that he could participate in the district ballroom dance competition this week. He and his dancing partner finished in the top 20 in the final round.
Her small act of kindness is now planted in the heart of that child. It will grow and fuse with hundreds of other kernels of goodwill that are hopefully added throughout his life. It will become part of a plant that will yield a gift of humanity for the world to admire someday when he and everyone else least expects it.
She has changed the trajectory of this boy’s life. She has given him hope. She has given him encouragement. She has given him love. He will succeed in the future.
This is her reward.
As human beings, we all crave recognition and praise for our endeavors. As adults, we often feel crestfallen when that acknowledgement is not granted.
As teachers, we must remember that, regardless the amount of gratitude received, we do indeed make a difference. Every single move we make brings about a breeze that most definitely changes the trajectory of the lives of our children.
This is our reward.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.